Last April, two class acts shared a stage in San Francisco: Mel Torme, one of the great, swinging jazz singers, and George Shearing, the superbly lyrical pianist.
Bassist Brian Torff kept things on the ground with his busy bottoms to more than a half-dozen classic American popular songs, but the night's contagious, sky-high exuberance was evident the moment Torme popped into some joyous scat-singing on the opening number, "All God's Chillun."
From there, the evening alternated between the buoyancy of "Give Me the Simple Life" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" -- with Torme's supple expansions of melody lines and sprightly energy to spare -- and the lush balladry of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "It Might as Well Be Spring." Shearing and Torff also got in a pair of numbers, the hyperkinetic "Manhattan Hoedown" and the pastorally serene "Good Morning Heartache." The concert was beautifully recorded by engineer Phil Edwards, which may have helped this album win its Grammy just last month.
In the past decade, the velvet-voiced Torme has matched his life-long assurance with an even more impressive sensitivity that imbues his ballad readings with a delicious warmth. His phrasing has always been horn-like in the tradition of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, and on "Nightingale" Torme stretches the languid tones and embraces the poignant lyrics with a decided urgency.
His articulation and delivery are impeccable throughout, the scatting effusive without being meandering.
Torff gets a little busy at times -- on the opening cut, he actually outstrips the pace -- but Shearing proves to be a smooth, empathetic accompanist whose embellishments never intrude. His touch is light and agile, his sense of harmonic adventure irrepressible. Shearing's classical leanings are evident on the romantic "Heartache," but his jazz spirit is in force everywhere else. The union with Torme is sophisticated, swinging and, ultimately, superb. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM GEORGE SHEARING AND MEL TORME -- An Evening With George Shearing and Mel Torme (Concord jazz CJ-190). THE SHOWS MEL TORME, Friday through Sunday at Charlie's Georgetown. GEORGE SHEARING, Next Tuesday through Sunday at Blues Alley.